Overcrowding crisis at Rotunda Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

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The Rotunda Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) admits premature babies born on or after 32 week’s gestation for specialist treatment, however, the control of infection outbreaks at the NICU has been compromised. In 2019, eight premature babies suffered infections caused by ESBL-producing Klebsiella as a result of the overcrowding of ICU cots – one infant’s death in the NICU was referred to the coroner. NICU cots should be 16m2 apart to prevent the spread of infection between infants, however at the overcrowded Rotunda, they are 5m2 apart.

The Master of the Rotunda, Professor Fergal Malone, has stated that the hospital is ‘not suitable for delivering 21st century care’, the unit complains that its infrastructure is outdated despite a complete renovation that concluded in December 2018 and although the 2019 infection outbreak was ‘very well managed and contained’ as reported in the Rotunda Delivery Newsletter, infections are unavoidable due to the critical lack of space, according to Malone. A HSE unannounced inspection in 2017 to the Rotunda similarly concluded that the NICU infrastructure was ‘outdated and did not meet desirable modern standards or facilitate implementation of effective infection prevention and control measures’.

A future initiative to relocate the Rotunda to a new building at Connolly Hospital campus in Blanchardstown is being developed, however sources at the Rotunda believe that relocation will take up to 15 years. The Rotunda Hospital Strategic Plan 2017-2021 states that ‘there is currently no funding commitment and no definite timeframe for the relocation’ to Connolly Hospital. Extensive works priced at hundreds of millions of euro need to be completed at Connolly Hospital, particularly at its ICU and operating theatres before co-location can commence. This means that at present, renovations need to be implemented at Rotunda’s Parnell Square location in order to address the space and capacity issues that are central to the spread of infection in the NICU, before operations are eventually transferred to Blanchardstown.

Complex pregnancies are becoming more common in Irish society as more women choose to become mothers at a later stage in life. Modern, adequate and funded NICUs are fundamental the welfare of premature infants.

Should you or a family member be affected by any of the issues raised here, please contact Rachael Liston, our Medical Negligence partner on Rachael.Liston@orpenfranks.ie or telephone the office on (01) 6376200 for specialist legal advice.

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